The St Jerome’s Laneway Festival has become a mainstay of the concert calendar in Singapore. Known for its high-calibre and cutting-edge indie acts, it has a line-up that is an ode to the international indie music scene.
Now for the first time, Singapore has its own representive among the likes of a Mercury prize winner (James Blake), Glastonbury festival veterans (Haim) and critically-acclaimed bands: sound artiste and singer Vandetta.
The assistant programme director and deejay at indie music radio station Lush 99.5FM, Vandetta, whose real name is Vanessa Fernandez, is involved with many of the station’s pro-Singapore music initiatives.
Originally a member of Singapore hip-hop pioneers Urban Xchange in early 2000, Vandetta was known for her velvety smooth R&B vocals.
Since then, she has reinvented herself. Like a modern-day troubadour, she uses just her voice and a sampler to loop beats. Her debut eponymous EP, ‘Vandetta’, is an experimental five-track compilation which puts up dark, sexy electronic grooves, alongside her unmistakable vocal chops.
The hypnotic, ethereal R&B track ‘Fly’, from Vandetta’s debut EP
Vandetta was humbled by the response. “I feel really grateful that people responded to it so well, and so positively. For an artiste, it always feels good just to be appreciated.”
Yet, even with the plaudits and praise from the music community overseas, it is the opinions of those back home that matter most to her.
“I felt more moved by the support of people in Singapore... my peers and my friends, and people with whom I really connect,” she said.
Since the release of her album, she has opened for genre-defying experimental musician Four Tet when he played at Zouk in 2013 (“That was nuts! It was a big dream come true.”) and she was handpicked by the organisers to play at Laneway.
“I remember when I got the call, and (Marcia Tan, executive producer of the Laneway Festival Singapore) said, 'You’re going to perform at Laneway!' It’s such a huge honour, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”
For a record largely made with just her voice and synth beats, she is confident that it will translate on stage for the live show at Laneway this weekend.
Vandetta creates sonic soundscapes on tracks such as 'Myne' Made with just a looper and her voice.
Joining her on stage will be three other musicians on keyboards (Kerong Chok), guitar (Adrian Yuen) and drums (Wenming Soh), all of whom are longtime collaborators. She is also keeping the production value of her stage act fairly lean but promised the showcase "will be epic".
As the conversation turned to her representing Singapore at the event, there is noticeable gravity in her voice.
Vanessa Fernandez goes by her stage name Vandetta
“The three of us (including Gema and The Observatory), we’re playing at Laneway and we’re representing Singapore. It’s a big responsibility and I take that seriously.”
Her passion for the Singapore music scene doesn’t just stop at Laneway.
After a year-long stint in Los Angeles, where she deejayed for an online radio station that closed down, she had to make big decisions about her next move. “I wanted to make sure that the next thing I did made sense for me career-wise, in terms of where I am as an artiste,” she explained.
Working at Singapore's Lush 99.5FM now, she is involved with many of the station’s pro-Singapore-music initiatives.
“It’s a really exciting time for Singapore music in general. So i’m thinking, how do we keep it going in the long term? I really want to be a part of that process, not just the evolution, but the stability,” she said.
For her, it’s not black and white when it comes to music advocacy. She understands that most people have not had the opportunity to discover the works of Singapore musicians, as good as they may be.
“It’s a very complex process when you’re talking about the relationship between the media and musicians here. It’s not just that the media has to give more support, it also has the responsibility to contextualise the music for the larger Singaporean community who might not be in the know.”
She cited the likes of fellow vocal-looper Weish, the O$P$ art group, and electro producer Fauxe among the many Singapore acts that get her excited. She is hopeful that in the next couple of years, “we’re going to see even more”.
RECORDING IN LA
While her electronica music might have received international attention, she still put aside time to sing.
She is in the midst of recording at Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles (she considers the city her second home), working on a album with Groove Note Records, a vinyl-only label.
“I’m working on a project covering some old-school soul singers. This is kind of me going back to my soulful roots,” she said.
Musical greats such as Mick Jagger and Ray Charles have also recorded at the legendary studio, but Vandetta cites Singaporean crooner Jacintha Abisheganaden (“They put out a lot of her stuff, back when she was doing jazz records”) as her predecessor when talking about who else has recorded there.
You can’t help feeling that while she trots across the world like a savvy professional, her heart will always be with Singapore.
Vandetta at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2014 | Date: 25 January 2014 | Time: 11am onwards (3.15pm for Vandetta's set) | Venue: Cloud Stage, The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay | Tickets: $150 (standard ticket); refer to the Laneway Festival website for full package details